Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Jen Van Meter about her upcoming Valiant series, THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE: SECOND LIVES. It’s the eagerly anticipated sequel to 2014’s hit series THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE, which stands as one of my favorite Valiant comics. Van Meter has worked on a lot of great comics in the past, including the Eisner-nominated HOPELESS SAVAGES and BLACK LIGHTNING: YEAR ONE. She is a passionate writer and her love for the material really shows in her writing.

MIRAGE-SEC_002_COVER-B_WADAI had read THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE before and I reread it last night to get ready for this conversation. It’s one of my favorite Valiant titles and I wrote a post for ComicsVerse to suggest getting into Valiant, and this was right at the top. I’m very excited for [the second volume] SECOND LIVES, which will be coming out starting in December. DR. MIRAGE sort of stands apart from many Valiant series, which are usually fairly tightly connected with continuity or features within the universe. Do you have any interest in tying DR. MIRAGE with other series or do you prefer having it stand alone?

It’s tricky because the way I see her, I think that she very much lives in the same world as the other Valiant characters but she sees it so differently—she’s interacting with a population nobody else can see. So to a degree, I feel like I want to touch on how her stuff overlaps but in the second series there are a couple hints [to indicate] that it’s a little more connected. I think [Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire] and also X-O MANOWAR have used her very well since the first series came out in ways that tie her to the rest of the world. When she shows up in an X-O MANOWAR issue, [Robert Venditti] used her so beautifully and so perfectly for the Valiant universe and I would love to draw some pieces from the rest of the continuity in, but I want to do it very carefully both because I don’t want to mess with anybody else’s stuff and because I do want to kind of keep the sense that it’s happening in the same world but on a slightly different plane. Does that make sense?

Absolutely!

I love the Valiant universe and I love what others have done to tie the books together, and I’d like to do more of that. This is really [unique] — in terms of my writing history — to do work for hire in a shared universe and a consistent continuity, and I’m in it, as opposed to a tourist or a visitor! I feel like the responsibility to do it carefully is something I take very seriously

I think that it’s working pretty well. You can see a lot of influences from the universe in the first volume—the Deadside and the feel of the encounters resonated with the Valiant mindset. How familiar were you with the Dr. Mirage series from the ‘90s when you signed on for (your) Dr. Mirage?

MIRAGE-SEC_002_VARIANT_LENOXI had to refresh my memory about details. I had read it when it was new, and I remembered it (and loved it). What I remembered was more of a feeling, so I was like ‘I need to go back and remember some of the details.’ It was the Valiant title I remembered the most distinctly, and what excited me most was the ‘adventurer couple’ aspect—Hwen and Carmen running around, kicking butt, and having that very loving lightness to their relationship. That was something that I immediately thought ‘oh, can we go back to that? Can we try to aim towards that vibe?’ and everyone in-house seemed very excited about that. That’s been on my mind as a sort of trajectory for these characters.

I thought one of the strongest parts of the first series was in the doctors’ relationships with each other, [especially] once Shan finally finds Hwen. There’s a lot of love there—and loss, and grief, and all kinds of emotions that you feel in a relationship. I thought it was really well conveyed.

Thank you!

How much freedom were you given when you were reinventing Dr. Mirage for Valiant?

SM_007_VARIANT_JOHNSON-640x979I think, quite a lot! When Alejandro [Arbona, Editor] called and started talking to me about this, [Valiant] had a total of maybe four pages in a couple of issues of SHADOWMAN that she’d appeared in for this new iteration? They said ‘so, she looks like this, we know her name is Shan; we know she’s done some TV; we’ve got these little bits and pieces but we don’t have a lot more than that. What would you be interested in doing?’ Very quickly, in that conversation, we started talking about her and that couple vibe and what a character arc might look like—then aimed toward that.

I think the thing that I liked most about Shan, as she was in the page in those first couple of appearances, was that she had this real brittleness to her. I started thinking about ‘what makes her that way? What kind of person is she?’ It was fairly early in the conversation that I got a hold of Alejandro [Arbona] and said ‘we’ve got this woman who talks to ghosts, and that’s preeeetty much all the Valiant universe has said about her at this point. What if her great tragedy is that her husband’s dead and he’s the one ghost she can’t talk to?’ they dug it, and out of that everything just rolled.

READ: Our suggestions on how to get into Valiant!

SM_007_COVER_ZIRCHER-310x476There was a lot of interaction between me and Alejandro—we talk about everything that happens in the book a lot, he’s a great editor and a great sounding board—but I feel like I’ve had a ton of freedom in terms of developing the tone of the book and the characters. I think it is important when you’re working on a team—in a shared universe or so on—that everyone be very communicative about goals for the book and that kind of thing, but I have not felt at all restricted in any sense. Everyone has been really supportive about the book—the readers have been very supportive as well—and I feel like it’s been a really liberating writing experience compared to any other work for [another] company.

What’s it like to work for Valiant as opposed to other comic companies?

One of the nicest things about working for Valiant is that the line is very tight. Everybody is in good communication about what’s going on from book to book. I’ve felt it to be a very warm and very involved company to work with. Every single Valiant staff person, administrator, executive, editorial; everyone’s super invested in the material and the characters, and there’s a genuine affection that is really heartwarming. It’s a delightful work environment. And on top of that, there’s a sense of everybody kind of knowing what’s going on! It’s not so big and sprawly that one office doesn’t know what another office is doing. It’s very hands on, and I like that! I think overwhelmingly, my favorite thing about it is that I have yet to meet somebody working anywhere in the Valiant chain of production that isn’t super invested in the characters and material in a really heartwarming way

I agree. Just reading the comics, you can tell that it’s such a close knit group of comics. That feeling you described comes through in the writing and presentation.

It really does! It’s a great group of people. I cannot say it loud enough or frequently enough. Alejandro [Arbona] is a super involved editor, he’s a great editor for somebody like me because I really want to be able to bounce ideas off of somebody and talk back and forth.

READ: Our review of Vertigo’s new TWILIGHT CHILDREN!

Roberto De La Torre is the artist on both volumes of DR. MIRAGE. I’ve always liked his work, mostly from IRON MAN and DAREDEVIL. What’s it like to work with him?

Oh, Roberto is a passionate artist. He does beautiful work. He and Dave Baron, [colorist] together make a page that is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Roberto has a style that is very emotional, very evocative, and I think just a little bit surreal—which is perfect for this book. Working with him on the second volume has been even more fun than the first one was. We’re in closer communication more frequently, and I feel like I’ve kinda gotten to know him better, in terms of how to script well for him. I think we have a fairly sympathetic sense of what’s important—the emotional heart of a scene or a page.

I think we’ve got a pretty good rapport about that. I always love seeing the art come in, because it’s what I might have imagined. I’ll say “oh, this page is a little spooky” and I’ll get back this page that’s super spooky and wonderful. He’ll focus on a detail that just brings the whole thing to life. [H]e’s got a lovely sense of acting especially where Shan and Hwen are concerned. I think he’s a very brave artist. The work you see after a script is always a wonderful surprise

His work can often look kind of ethereal. I think that works especially well with this comic. When the Doctors are in the spiritual realm, or the Deadside, it takes on a different look. I love seeing that change within a similar style.

DRMIRAGE_002_002-640x984I think the second volume is going to be really neat, because where the first series was really about Shan leaving this world and exploring Deadside and all the other neighborhoods of the afterlife, this one is much more about her and Hwen moving through this world but seeing the ghost population. Seeing the magic of it in a way that another Valiant character would not. Roberto’s art techniques have this beautiful quality of transforming normal spaces.

In the first series there’s a flashback to the day Shan and Hwen fall in love; they’ve been working in a haunted house. And it’s a normal house, it’s an early 20th century American colonial house. But the way his art touches it transforms MIRAGE-SEC_001_001everything about it. He’s kind of doing that to the whole world in the second book. Everywhere [the Doctors Mirage] go, we’re seeing the ghost population that lives there, we’re seeing the magic that inhabits the space. It’s neat to see him take all this normal stuff and twist it five degrees the way he does in that lovely evocative style that he has. I think he does a beautiful job of making normal things not normal. Airport bathrooms, which is about the most normal boring thing I can think of, look like magical spaces when he draws them, and it’s awesome!

I think there’s something in everyday things that you don’t always notice that is unnatural when you really think about it.

MIRAGE-SEC_001_002Right! One of the things that I really wanted for this series was to say—and it goes back to what we were talking about before with the rest of the Valiant universe. There’s plenty of craaazy stuff happening in the Valiant universe, with the talking ghosts and that sort of thing. One of the points of contrast in something like HARBINGER, or any of the books really, is that you’re watching these extraordinary people doing extraordinary things in a world that looks like the world we know. I think Roberto is a great fit for making that same world we know look a little bit unknown, as Shan and Hwen move through it (because their perception is different). He’s got a great feel for the emotion of the characters, he’s got a great feel for their passion for one another and it comes out on the page in a beautiful world.

Stay tuned for PART 2 of my interview with Jen Van Meter! In the meantime, I encourage you to pick up THE DEATH DEFYING DOCTOR MIRAGE! It’s one of Valiant’s best titles and the sequel is coming out in December!

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